Author: Jill Shalvis

She stared at his chest, trying not to notice how her pulse had leaped. “You don’t have to keep thanking me. You’re paying me.”


“I’ll do both. And speaking of paying you…”


“Uh-oh,” she said, tilting her head up to his.


“I think I need another week to find the right nanny,” he said. “You up for that?”


Was she up for a second week of being overpaid and having another excuse to put off her life? “Sure.”


“Arf, arf, arf!” came Tank’s bark.


“Arf, arf, arf!” came another bark.


Toby’s.


Josh dropped his forehead to Grace’s shoulder and sighed.


“He spoke English all day,” she said. “Until you came home.”


He lifted his head and looked at her. “So it’s me. He’s barking because of me.”


Grace hesitated, knowing she had to tell him but hating to add to his full plate of things to worry about. “You know he wants to be a Jedi warrior, right?”


“Everyone in Lucky Harbor knows he wants to be a Jedi warrior.”


“Yes, but did you know he wants to be the best Jedi warrior ever so that his mom will come home?”


Josh stared at her for a blink, then closed his eyes. “Shit.”


The barking increased in intensity, and he pulled free. “I have to go.”


“I know.” And she did know. A guy like Josh would always have to go: to work, to his family…to everyone but the woman in his life he didn’t have time for, or want.


She knew this. She’d been okay with this. So when exactly had that begun to change?


The next morning, Grace woke up early to work on Jeanine’s books for her pottery shop. It was icy cold, so she cranked on the heat and then went to the kitchen, where she’d stowed the few groceries she’d bought yesterday. Trying to decide between yogurt and a bagel, she thumbed through her texts, stopping at one from her father.


Hi Pumpkin, your mother tells me how well you’re doing. Expect to hear great things from you! Keep it up. Love, Dad


Still staring at the text, she popped a bagel into the toaster. Something sizzled, and then the lights went out. And then Josh’s words came back to her, a little too late.


Can’t use the heater and the toaster at the same time.


“Crap.” There wasn’t much to see by, just the predawn light filtering in through the windows. No flames. That was good. But what if she’d started an electrical fire in the walls? Worried, she threw on a robe and ran for the big house. The back slider was locked, but she could see through the living room to the kitchen table. Toby was sitting on it, Indian-style, with Tank in his lap. The two of them were eating cereal out of a huge plastic container. The same huge plastic container.


Not a surprise. Tank loved anything edible. Especially if Toby was eating it.


Grace waved. Tank leaped off the table and came barreling at her. Losing traction, he slid on the tile floor and crashed face-first into the slider door. Bouncing back on his butt, he sat there a moment, dazed, before shaking his oversized head, barking at her.


Grace, who’d been working with him on commands since she’d seen that doggie training show, pointed at him. “Tank, quiet.”


Tank sat.


He did not, however, stop barking. Grace sighed and caught Toby’s eye, gesturing to the locked door.


This went no better than it had the last time she’d been locked out. Apparently thinking she was waving, Toby waved back, then arced his lightsaber through the air. “Toby. Come open the door.”


He finished whooshing first, then having apparently satisfied himself that he’d thoroughly impressed her, opened the door.


Tank was still barking.


“Tank, quiet! Toby, where’s your dad?”


Toby pointed in the vague direction of the hall. Grace headed that way. The first door—Toby’s—was open, revealing a bedroom that looked like a disaster zone of epic proportions.


Anna’s door was shut.


Josh’s bedroom was at the end, partially open, allowing Grace to peek in. And oh, goodness, there he was, sprawled out flat on his back in the middle of the bed. He was shirtless, and the sheets rode low enough on his hips to reveal a mouth-watering chest, abs to die for, and a happy trail that vanished beneath the sheet and made her want to do the same.


Probably he was naked, and just the thought gave her a hot flash. “Josh?”


He didn’t move, so she stepped into the room. She set a hand on his shoulder, but before she could say his name again, he’d grabbed her and tugged hard, rolling her beneath him.


Yep, he was naked.


Very, very naked.


“Mmm,” he rumbled. “Like the robe. It’s soft.” Dipping his head, he nipped at her throat. “I’m over the no-kissing thing, Grace. I want a new deal.”


She let out a breathless laugh, her hands wandering over his shoulders and back because, hello, she was only human. He was warm and solid and felt so good nuzzling her neck. Not at all sure he wasn’t still in dreamland, she nudged him. “You awake?”


“Shit.” He sighed. “Yeah. And Toby’s probably up.”


Josh was “up,” too, and the thought gave her a shiver of arousal. “Toby is up. He’s eating an entire box of cereal out of the same bowl as Tank.”


“Perfect.” Josh rolled off her and then stood—still very naked, impressively so. And utterly unconcerned about it in the way that only a man could possibly be.


“Um,” she said, losing her train of thought, riveted to the part of him that was the most awake, telling herself to close her eyes and preserve his modesty.


But she didn’t close her eyes.


He grabbed a pair of jeans off a chair and pulled them on, adjusting himself and giving her another hot flash.


Think, Grace. You came here for a reason. “I’ve got a problem.”


“What now? Anna?”


“No.”


He finished buttoning his fly. He stood there, hair tousled, no shirt, no socks, nothing but those loose, low-riding jeans, and it was damn hard to think. “I turned on the heater and—”


He lifted his head. “Not the toaster.”


“And the toaster,” she admitted.


“Shit, Grace.” He headed out the door.


“Sorry!” Feeling like an idiot, she flopped back onto his bed, staring at the ceiling. Such an idiot. And since she was, she rolled over and pressed her face into Josh’s still-warm pillow, inhaling him in.


“What are you doing?”


She squeaked in horrified surprise at Josh’s voice and leaped off the bed to find him in the doorway.


“Were you going back to sleep in my bed?” he asked, looking amused.


And since that was far less embarrassing than the truth, she lifted a shoulder. Noncommittal.


Not fooled, he shook his head and tugged her up to go with him to check on the guesthouse. Toby tagged along as well, wanting to see the “big fire!”


Luckily there was no big fire. There was no fire at all. She’d only tripped an electrical breaker, but she’d learned her lesson. And that lesson was, don’t go to Josh’s bedroom or she’d see things that she wanted but couldn’t have.


“I wanted to put out the big flames with my lightsaber,” Toby said, disappointed. “That’d make me the bestest warrior ever.” He paused. “After you, Daddy. ’Cause you’re the first bestest.”


Grace’s heart cracked in two, and she looked at Josh. He crouched before Toby, hands on his skinny little hips. Toby stared down at his battered Star Wars athletic shoes.


Josh put a finger beneath Toby’s chin and gently tilted up his face. “You’re already the best warrior there is, Little Man. The very best.”


“I’m too small to be the bestest. I want to be as big as you.”


“It’s not about size.”


“It’s ’cause I don’t have a mommy. Sam and Tommy and Aiden and Kyle, they all have mommies. Kyle’s mommy told Tommy’s mommy that I don’t have one because you wouldn’t share me.”


Josh didn’t say anything for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was a little hoarse, but it was filled with conviction. “This might be hard for you to understand, but once in a very great while, sharing isn’t the best thing to do.”


“But everyone has a mommy,” Toby said. “How can I be the bestest Jedi without one?”


“I don’t have a mom,” Josh told him. “Does that make me less of a Jedi?”


Toby shook his head adamantly. “No, you’re still the bestest, Daddy.”


“Then how about we be tied?”


Toby thought about that, then nodded solemnly. When Josh opened his arms, Toby walked right into them, curling tightly into Josh’s chest.


Grace didn’t drop to her knees and crawl into Josh’s arms too.


But she wanted to.


Josh watched his son run back to the big house ahead of him and Grace, not surprised when Grace stopped him with a question in her eyes.


“Tommy’s mom knew Toby’s mom,” he said quietly. “But she has only one side of the story.”


“What’s the other side?”


That Josh had grown up the nerd, the bookworm, the kid who got frisked for his lunch money and stuffed into the lockers. By the time he’d gone to college, he’d finally grown and learned how to fight back. But even as recently as five years ago, a gorgeous woman blowing through town for a wedding and picking him for one hot night together had been more than a little shocking.


And flattering.


He’d fallen for the charming words and amazing body, hook, line, and sinker. And then gotten his heart broken, just the same as Toby. “The other side of the story isn’t relevant,” he finally said.


“I hear ya,” Grace said softly, making him wonder what kind of a story she had.


But it was none of his business, even if she was staring up at him with those gorgeous, heart-baring eyes. Open. Sweet.

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